The NUC

Introduction

Here at The Tech Buyer's Guru, we have a thing for Small Form Factor PCs. That's why we have an entire section of our buyer's guides dedicated to them, along with several hands-on assembly guides in our how-to section featuring ITX-based systems. But if you want a really small PC, when ITX isn't enough, then your obvious choice is the Intel NUC. We've long featured a NUC Buyer's Guide on The Tech Buyer's Guru, but thought it was about time to provide a hands-on assembly guide for the NUC, just to provide our readers a little more confidence that yes, indeed, they can build a NUC too!

The NUC is a little different from other do-it-yourself builds that we profile, in that it comes partially assembled from Intel. That makes it more of a "barebones PC" than a do-it-yourself PC, but it still leaves a number of decisions in the hands of the builder, which is what makes the NUC so exciting. You can select a standard slim NUC if you're just using an M.2-based SSD, or go with the NUC "H" model to use a laptop-style SSD or hard drive. You can use standard or high-speed memory, ranging in capacity from 2GB all the way up to 16GB, and you can choose Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors (all of the dual-core variety, by the way). And you can also select your operating system, although some version of Windows is the most obvious choice.

Because the motherboard and CPU come pre-installed, the assembly process itself is pretty straightforward, so to spice things up a bit, we decided to add another element to this guide: mounting a NUC on a VESA-compatible touchscreen monitor for a complete home computing solution. We think you'll find this configuration a pretty compelling option, as it truly takes advantage of the NUC's incredible form factor. Sure, having a little NUC sitting on your desk in place of a huge desktop PC is cool, but having a NUC tucked away behind your monitor, invisible to the untrained eye, is even cooler!

So let's get right to it then. Here’s our complete parts list:

  1. NUC Kit: CPU: Intel NUC NUC5i5RYK
  2. RAM: 2x4GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 SODIMM 
  3. Solid State Drive: Samsung 850 Evo M.2 500GB
  4. Keyboard: Logitech K400 Plus
  5. Monitor: Planar PCT2265 22-Inch Touchscreen Monitor
  6. Cables: StarTech 1ft HDMI to Mini-HDMI and StarTech 1ft USB 3.0 A to B
  7. Operating System: Windows 10 USB Stick

Below you can see just about all of our parts selections prior to diving into the build, which include the NUC, the operating system, the solid-state drive, and the memory:

The Parts

Let's go over a few notes before getting into the build. First, we recommend using a version of Windows 10 that ships on a thumb drive, as you'll need to use a thumb drive to install it one way or another. Not only do you not have an optical drive in a NUC, it can be tricky (read: impossible) to install an OS from a DVD to an M.2 solid-state drive. That being said, you can save a bit of money buying a DVD copy of Windows, and then use Microsoft's media creation tool to make your own flash drive installer. It's an extra step (and requires a large download), but it's definitely a great option for do-it-yourself types.

Another thing to note is that M.2 solid-state drives are not the same thing as mSATA drives that older NUCs used. The current-gen NUCs (and undoubtedly future-gen NUCs) cannot use mSATA drives, so make sure your the drive you choose has M.2 in the model name. Both SATA-based and PCIe-based models will work, with PCIe-based models like the amazing Samsung 950 Pro typically being 3-4 faster than the already fast SATA-based 850 Evo we used, at about twice the cost per GB as of our publication data. For a PC like the NUC, the extra speed of a PCIe-based SSD is probably going to go to waste (and they also run much hotter), so sticking with SATA-based drives would be our recommendation.

NUC parts

Lastly, we think the Core i5 NUC offers the best compromise between speed, price, and noise of all the NUCs, so that's the one we chose. Note that it comes in two varieties, standard and tall ("H"). To get the sleekest setup with our touchscreen monitor, we chose the standard model.

In the NUC box you'll find the NUC itself, the external power supply (which is just a bit bigger than a cell phone charger!), a manual, warranty information, and the VESA mounting bracket plus mounting screws.

OK, that's it for the introduction, ready to see how it all comes together?!?

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